DALLAS -- The details of their assaults are horrific.
Melissa Little was sexually abused from age five until she was 13. A serial rapist attacked her at gunpoint when she was 26.
Victoria Holmes was molested from the age of six. The abuse lasted for years. Out of the abuse, she bore two children.
Iris Dunn was raped by a relative and two of his friends as a teenager. Months later, she tried to kill herself.
Little, Holmes, Dunn and several other women sat down with News 8 to tell us their stories about being victims of rape. They wanted to tell us about the pain, the shame, and the years of denial.
“I lived in what I call 'a life of shame,'” Little said. “When you believe that you aren’t worthy and aren’t valuable and aren’t significant, you start to make choices in your life based on that shame.”
But each have something else in common; they are not only survivors, they are overcomers.
Each of them found help from the same place through Arise! International, which operates one of the few (if not the only) support group programs in southern Dallas County.
“There’s a huge need,” said Gwendolyn Jones, who heads the program. “We haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg.”
Arise helps about 48 clients a year, she said. About 65 percent of its clients are minorities.
“Every client that walks into that door who is hurting emotionally, who doesn’t think that there’s any hope for their pain and where they are right now, but there is hope," Jones said. "And we want to come alongside them and walk with them."
Jones is also a victim of childhood sexual violence. Marcey Chapman calls Jones her angel on Earth.
“She is totally and completely devoted to what she does,” said Chapman, who went through the program and now serves on Jones’ board. “She gives herself, 100 percent.”
For many of the women, the abuse occurred decades ago. Many of the women drive from all over North Texas to attend.
Little traveled from Flower Mound every week for months.
Three years ago, she found herself in a hospital bed with a broken back and a gunshot wound from a domestic violence attack. She sought help.
“For me, it was a matter of getting my life back and beginning to live for the first time in my life,” Little said. “I’m in a very healthy relationship. I know who I am. I know what I am. And it’s not what other people told me it was, or made me believe that I was.”
Holmes took a bus to the support group program because didn’t have a car. She said Jones would give her rides home.
“The most painful thing was that you have to live the memories of the past, and in living those memories, I realized how very, very ugly it was,” Holmes said. “My family basically treated me as though it was my fault and ... through the support group, I learned that it wasn’t my fault, that I don’t have to live in shame and guilt anymore.”
Dunn said for years she put on a mask of denial.
“I was very controlling. Didn’t trust anyone. I was just really going through life trying to protect myself,” she said.
In 2008, while serving in the Navy, Dunn was sent to Iraq. It was there that denial stopped working.
“I couldn’t function," she said. “I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t go to work ... I thought somebody was going to try to rape me. I thought somebody was going to kill me ... It was just overwhelming."
Chapman said she was sexually abused from as early as she can recall.
For years, she hid the abuse and tried to act as if nothing had happened. She married a minister and tried to play the good church wife.
“I was just trying to just be good,” she said. “I was surviving, but inside I was dying every day.”
Her ability to cope ended and she said she began to unravel when her eight-year-old child died from a seizure.
“I sat on my bed and Googled help,” she said. “At that point... I hated myself. I blamed myself for everything that happened to me.”
In the support groups, the women found a sisterhood.
“You didn’t even have to explain,” Dunn said. “They understood all of the things that you were feeling, what you were going through. It was like being at home for the first time.”
CaSandra Starks, who was also sexually abused as a child, agreed.
“We share the same secrets,” she said. “We share the share the same wound. Even though all of our stories are different, we understand why we act the way we act ... we understand each other in a way that nobody else can, and so we found that place — that safe haven — where we could connect with each other.”
These days, each of the women has a whole new appreciation for life.
“I remember walking outside and I never knew the trees were so green,” Holmes said. “The buildings were so high. The sky was so blue. The grass was so green, because I was in darkness and that’s all I saw was darkness. But today, I know it’s a beautiful world. I know it’s a beautiful world and I’m going to enjoy it.”
Chapman said they want other women to have what they’ve found.
“The truth is, there’s freedom. There is hope. There is life and there is love and there’s healing,” she said. “You don’t have to be who people have tried to make you be from what they did to you.”
Click here to find out more about Arise! International or how to get help